His­toric sea­son

Matthews rapidly ap­proach­ing fran­chise records; be­came third rookie in Leafs his­tory to score 30

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JONAS SIEGEL

Auston Matthews had No. 31 on his stick.

It was less than a minute into Sat­ur­day’s over­time and the 19-year-old was in alone op­po­site Mon­treal Cana­di­ens all-world net­min­der Carey Price. Matthews had al­ready beaten Price twice in reg­u­la­tion and an­other goal would have de­liv­ered the Maple Leafs a much-needed two points - not to men­tion a sec­ond ca­reer hat trick for the al­ready dom­i­nant Amer­i­can cen­tre.

Matthews got the shot off — de­spite Alex Galchenyuk’s best ef­forts in re­treat, in­clud­ing an at­tempted whack — but Price got the knob of his stick on it, send­ing the shot and ul­ti­mately the game Mon­treal’s way as the Cana­di­ens went on to win 3-2.

“He’s al­right,” Price said sar­cas­ti­cally of Matthews after­ward. “I think he’ll be a good player in this league.”

Matthews be­came just the third Leafs rookie ever to hit 30 goals with his two-goal per­for­mance in de­feat against the Cana­di­ens — the 14th straight loss for Toronto against Mon­treal. He’s rapidly ap­proach­ing the fran­chise rookie record for goals in one sea­son, just five from eclips­ing Wen­del Clark, who had 34 goals in the 1985-86 sea­son.

Daniel Marois is the only other Leafs rookie to hit 30goals, notch­ing 31 for the club in the 1988-89 sea­son.

“I knew he was an elite player,” Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock said when asked if he ex­pected Matthews to score 30 this sea­son.

“I never spent any time think­ing about what his stats would be, just that he would help us win. That’s what I like about him — he helps you win be­cause he plays right and he’s get­ting bet­ter every day. He’s go­ing to be our No. 1 cen­tre here — if he’s not al­ready — in no time and he’ll be a guy who’s driv­ing our fran­chise.”

Matthews trails only Sid­ney Crosby (34) in the Rocket Richard tro­phy race, top­ping the Leafs both in goals and points (54) and also now equal to Win­nipeg’s Pa­trik Laine for top spot among all rook­ies in both cat­e­gories.

His 217 shots rank sixth in the NHL. His first goal against Mon­treal was a solo ef­fort. Matthews got a pass from Jake Gar­diner in the neu­tral zone and burst into the of­fen­sive end with speed. To gain just a touch more space from the Cana­di­ens de­fence, he slowed up as he ap­proached the right face-off cir­cle and then let it rip.

The shot hit the out­stretched stick and then arm of Mon­treal de­fence­man Alexei Emelin, bounced off the ice and then snuck through the pads of Price.

It was his NHL-lead­ing 11th game-open­ing goal of the year.

For No. 30 Matthews got his stick on a pass from Zach Hy­man, do­ing so just be­fore Emelin could tie him up in front.

Matthews fin­ished with two goals and seven shots in al­most 18 min­utes, his line strug­gling at even-strength against Mon­treal (33 per cent puck pos­ses­sion).

Sat­ur­day was his fifth multi­goal game of the year, the Cana­di­ens the 19th team al­ready that he’s scored against.

“He’s a spe­cial tal­ent, very aware of all his sur­round­ings, quick shot, quick re­lease,” Price said. “They got a good one with him.”

Be­yond the fran­chise rookie mark for goals that Matthews is sure to shat­ter — likely in early March — other records are also likely to fall.

Matthews is on pace for 73 points, which would break Peter Ih­nacak’s fran­chise rookie mark of 66 (1982-83). He has six game-win­ning goals al­ready with a shot at equalling and per­haps pass­ing Howie Meeker’s rookie record of eight, which has stood for 70 years.

Matthews has an out­side shot of match­ing Dar­ryl Sit­tler’s best of 45 goals for a Leafs cen­tre, set back in 1977-78 sea­son. The last Leaf to hit 40 goals was Mats Sundin in the 2001-02 sea­son (41).

“He’s got a work ethic and a men­tal tough­ness that’s go­ing to be a good ex­am­ple for ev­ery­one that be­comes a Leaf,” Bab­cock said.

CP PHOTO

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews (right) and team­mate Wil­liam Ny­lan­der cel­e­brate af­ter Matthews’ sec­ond goal dur­ing NHL ac­tion against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens in Toronto on Sat­ur­day.

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